Home / news / Puritans between church and state in early America .. Why did they suppress the celebration of Christmas?

Puritans between church and state in early America .. Why did they suppress the celebration of Christmas?

Since its founding in the last quarter of the 18th century, the role of religion in public life in the United States has remained a controversial topic, as the first American colonies arose with the contribution of the “Puritan” purists who called for reforming the English Church in the 17th century and many of them left the Netherlands, where they resided. Their rituals before some decide to leave for the New World early.

After the separation of the King of England, Henry VIII (ruled from 1509 until his death in 1547) from the Catholic Pope (the Vatican) as a result of the king’s marriage crisis that the Pope rejected, Henry severed ties with Rome and established the Independent Church of England, considering himself the spiritual father of it, and making membership of the new church mandatory But a group of religious people (Puritans) considered that they cling to the motifs that “distract them from the word of God” while they should return to the simple worship of the early Christians.

They opposed state interference in the affairs of religion and royal control over the church. A group of them broke away from the entire Church of England and called them “separatists” and were subjected to persecution and persecution. Some fled to the Netherlands where they hoped that they would be able to practice their faith freely, but life was harsh and living was difficult for them. They also feared the influence of Dutch society on their children, so around 1620 some of them decided to sail to America to establish a new religious colony in the New World.

Their numbers increased after their leaders were persecuted in Britain, and likewise they were harassed in Ireland and Germany in the 17th century. Hundreds of them sailed in 1630 on board a fleet of several ships to settle in the northeastern United States in the area known as “New England” and founded a city Boston.

But this ancient history still has an impact on the contemporary reality in the United States. When the winter colds intensify across America every year, the “Christmas War” flares up at the beginning and end of each calendar year.

The Christmas Controversy

A Starbucks cup in the winter season has been a battleground for American values ​​in recent years.For 18 years, the design of the cups included symbols of the Christmas season such as Christmas trees and ice skates, but in 2015 the company chose a simple design in red color without engravings, which called for a major attack A conservative Christian missionary named Joshua Feuerstein considered that the company “has removed the symbols of Christmas from its cups, because it hates Jesus Christ.”

The debate that took place during the holiday season returned the old debate of American discussions, and last year 2020 some opponents of public health measures to curb the spread of the Corona pandemic described it as a war on Christmas and the season of Christian celebrations.

Puritanism, or the purification movement, focuses on considering the Bible as the only source of religion without regard to the sayings of the saints and churchmen, and includes a mixture of social, political and theological ideas.

The Puritans, also known as “militants”, established schools for their children in the colonies that they had arrived since 1630, as well as women’s schools for their daughters, and were known to be among the most literate societies in the world at the time. They also established “Harvard College” years after their arrival in America and took its name from the title of its founder. Clergyman John Harvard.

Christmas battle

And in his book “The Battle of Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of a Holiday to Cherish,” writer Stephen Nissenbaum mentioned that Puritans from the Massachusetts colony simply banned the holiday, and they had their own justifications, considering that Christmas was an occasion for drunkenness and riots, when the poor sailors “blackmailed” the rich to get On food and drink.

In this book on the early social history of the United States, Nissenbaum rediscovers the origins of the Christmas carnival and shows how, during the 19th century, it was transformed into a festival of families and consumerism, drawing on a wealth of documents and illustrations that show how “the present Christmas traditions were invented, from Saint Nicholas to the Christmas tree and the tradition of giving gifts to children. “

In his article in the ongoing debate, Peter C. Mancall, professor of humanities at the College of Arts, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California, argued that discussions about celebrating Christmas date back to the 17th century, when “religious purists were not very enthusiastic about the holiday” and discouraged Christmas celebrations, then They later banned it altogether, believing that the ban on Christmas celebrations is a natural extension of the stereotype of Puritans as being uninviting and lacking in humor.

But as a scholar who has written on the Puritans, Mancall considers that the purists’ hostility to the holiday joys is not related to their alleged asceticism but to their desire to impose their will on New Englanders, natives and immigrants alike, as he puts it.

An aversion to chaos

The oldest documented evidence of their aversion to celebrating Christmas dates back to 1621, when Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony criticized some newcomers who chose to take a vacation rather than work.

but why? Mancall replies, Bradford did not actually argue for the “deity of Jesus Christ” as a religious Protestant, but the Puritans were very committed to creating a “pious society” and his criticisms reflected the continuing concern of Puritans about ways to celebrate Christmas in England, where the holiday was a occasion for riotous, and sometimes violent behavior. , And grants revelers a license to “do whatever they desire” and even “to commit fools like playing dice and cards and wearing masks.”

Civil authorities accepted these practices mostly, because they realized that allowing some of those deprived of their rights to get rid of tension in a few days of the year tends to preserve a social class system that maximizes their interests alone, and the idea was to say: They will get back to work without causing problems. “

English militants objected to accepting such practices because they feared any sign of chaos, and although the militants’ efforts to stamp out Christmas celebrations in England before 1620 had little effect, once in North America, they were those seeking religious freedom and fleeing from Persecution is dominating the governments of New Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut, according to Mancall.

Puritan intolerance and its contradictions

Boston became the focal point of Puritan efforts to create a community in which church and state reinforce each other.

Militants in Plymouth and Massachusetts used their power to punish or banish those who did not adopt their views. For example, they banished an Anglican lawyer named Thomas Morton because he rejected Puritan theology and established friendship with the local indigenous people, and in the years that followed they tried to apply their religious views even to local church leaders and the order reached them to execute some Quakers (calling for a common life) , According to Mancall.

In 1687, Minister Incres Mather denounced Christmas celebrations and thought they were inspired by an ancient Roman mythical feast called Saturn that was held for the god of the harvest in ancient Rome, but in 1673, Mather called alcohol “a good creature of God,” which gives A glimpse of his contradictory opinions.

The writer says that what the militants wanted was a society dominated by their opinions, and this made them yearn to convert the indigenous people to Christianity, which is what they were able to do in some places, as they tried to eliminate what they considered “usurious commercial practices” within their community. And in Plymouth, they executed a teenager for having sex with animals, a punishment stipulated in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus.

And when the Puritan people believed that the natives might attack them or undermine their economy, they launched the most famous attack in 1637, when they set fire to the village of Pequot, killing those who tried to flee, and then selling the captives as slaves in contravention of their religious beliefs!

Source : Al-Jazeera + the American press + websites

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